“Don't judge me.” They are the three words that reverberate through our minds when someone brings up something we don't want them to touch. It might be a bad habit. A worldview. A preference. Whatever it is, whenever it gets brought up as a point of why we aren't good, moral, or “acceptable” to God (aka, called a sinner), these three words easily can roll off our tongues. And we feel justified.
“The bible says don't judge!”
But does it? Does the bible actually say not to judge another person?
If you look at Matthew 7:1-6, you see Jesus in the middle of a sermon to the masses. He is speaking to a crowd filled with all sorts of people, and He is constantly helping them come to the reality that God's standard is perfection, and they cannot meet it. He explicitly states this earlier in chapter 5, when he says “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.” (v. 48) And Jesus states this after he expounds upon the law in a way that makes us realize there is no way we could keep it! Consider what Jesus says:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment...” (vs. 21-22a)
“You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (vs. 27-28)
This standard of perfection is STAGGERING! And this is just a glimpse into God's standard.
Why does Jesus do this? He's trying to help the crowd realize their need for a savior. He's driving them to see the reality of their sin, their innate separation from God, so they could see their need for an ultimate, perfect rescuer. It's why Jesus says in 5:18 that He came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. He knew that His people needed a perfect sacrifice to satisfy God's perfect justice.
This humbles the religious, because they can't please God by how many prayers they offer up, how many services they attend, and how many good deeds they can offer.
It also humbles the irreligious, because it exposes an argument that we can be moral and upright without God.
It shows both pathways lead nowhere but down. You can get to whatever you consider “enlightenment” if you're perfect. The problem is, none of us are. And that's the requirement we need to judge.
Jesus, later in his sermon, finally talks about judgment from person to person. He states “Judge not, that you not be judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (7:1-2) I know what you're thinking:
“See! The bible does say don't judge, otherwise God will judge you! It doesn't matter what else was said before, you can't judge me!”
Slow down. Yes, Jesus says don't judge, otherwise God will judge us. But let's look a little further:
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” (7:3-5)
This is an absurd picture that Jesus uses. “Do you notice the LOG in your own eye?” These words are ones we quickly gloss over, but consider the absurdity. Picture yourself walking around wacking people in the head with the protruding LOG in your eye, telling people about the little speck in theirs. First, you'd leave a path of destruction, or at least countless concussions. Second, people would look at you with little credibility, because you by far have the bigger obstruction! A log, or a speck. Which is more noticable? And yet you haven't addressed the LOG, only someone with an itsy-bitsy speck!
This is a hilarious and provocative image. And notice what Jesus says to do with that log. “...take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” He doesn't say “don't judge.” He says address yourself first, and then address your brother. This is profound. This is why it's important to look at the context of the whole sermon, because the judgment Jesus is calling for is not condemnation, but rather one of discernment and rebuke. He's trying to help people know how to address sin in their lives so they would become undeceived, repent, and believe in Christ. He's calling people to judge one another, but only after they have humbled themselves and seen their own need for a savior, for restoration, for change.
This leaves some help for application:
We need to lead in humility → If we see someone struggling, we must first humble ourselves. Humility helps us to see things from God's point of view. It helps us filter our thoughts through the lens of scripture, rather than the lens of our pre-determined, sin-stained thoughts and motives. Where it could feel like someone is deliberately disrespecting me, I need to humble myself, ask what the sin actually is, and then address the sin, laying aside my pride and insecurity beforehand.
We need to welcome correction and rebuke → I hate being corrected. But the whole framework of the sermon on the mount is for people to see that they don't measure up, repent from sin, and trust in the finished work of the cross. If that's the case, then I need others to see my specks and help me remove them, because this passage implies that you and I are blind to them.
We need to be wary of when we default to “don't judge.” → v. 6 states “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” Jesus “judges” those who don't want to listen, and he says, “Don't waste your time. Don't waste your words. They aren't worth talking to.” The point isn't that we should alienate and ostracize; I think many of us fall into this category from time to time. But, what Jesus is saying is that there is a condition that is extra dangerous. If we refuse correction and rebuke, but we claim Christ, it could be an indicator that you actually don't understand the gospel. And that is why the judgment of believers is vitally important. It helps us know whether we are on the track towards eternal life, or eternal damnation.
May we help one another in pointing out each others 'specks', so that we might experience greater joy in the savior who was perfect for our sake.
In His Grace,